AUSTRALIANS are mourning the death of respected educator, former columnist for The Catholic Leader and author Marist Brother John Venard Smith, who died last week.
Marist Brother Roger Burke said Br Venard died peacefully on January 31 aged 89, two weeks short of his 90th birthday.
Br Venard was best known as a teacher and principal in a career that spanned more than 50 years.
He also wrote more than 1000 Sacred Space columns for The Catholic Leader, a task he took to heart.
“He loved writing for The Catholic Leader,” Br Burke said.
Speaking to The Catholic Leader in 2016, Br Venard said he wanted to write books and columns because “I think God is a good God”.
“He’s on our side, and so we should be bouncing up and down, loving everybody,” he said.
“When I was a young guy, God was a guy who put us into hell … but I think God, he’s on our side.
“To me, God and religion are supposed to cheer us up.
“Life’s good, and we have one life and he wants us to help him to spread the Good News, and people ought to be happy.”
Br Venard was born John Frederick Smith on February 12, 1928, to John and Elizabeth Smith at Kurri Kurri, New South Wales.
He had nine siblings and, like many Catholic families of his generation, grew up surrounded by relatives in religious orders.
In Br Venard’s family, there were five religious in total – John, two Sisters of Mercy and two Sisters of St Joseph.
He was a student at Eastwood when he met the Marist Brothers, entering the order the day before his 12th birthday.
After juniorate and novitiate he took his first vows in July 1946, and due to the pressing need for brothers at the time, went straight into the classroom as a teacher.
For the following 47 years he taught at various schools, mostly in Sydney but also in Newcastle, Brisbane and Gladstone.
For more than 26 years he was principal at St Anne’s, Bondi Beach; St Benedict’s Broadway; Auburn; Hamilton, where he was the first leader of the re-constituted co-educational senior school, St Francis Xavier; and finally at Chanel College, Gladstone.
He also offered support to Tom Moore as vocations promoter for a significant period in the 1980s and was master of scholastics for several years.
After completing his appointment as principal at Gladstone he remained in Rockhampton diocese and was an assistant to the Catholic Education Office director.
It was at this time that he began to write for The Catholic Leader.
In his writings, Br Venard explained prayer as building up a relationship with God.
He said his own relationship with God was “much better now because as I move around, as I talk to people, as I do things, I’m conscious of doing God’s work, and he’s up there in Heaven saying ‘Good on you, John. Keep going, keep going …’”
Br Venard’s seven books – Walking with a Battler’s God; A Journey with a Battler’s God; In the Arms of a Battler’s God; At Home with a Battler’s God; Surprise! The Battler’s God Dwells Within!; The Best of the Battler’s God; and Finally, the Battler’s God – are compilations of his Sacred Space columns.
The books are still available from The Catholic Leader, and proceeds from the sales go to Marist Missions.
Br Venard’s funeral was held at Marist College Ashgrove chapel on February 7.
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